Milestone changes in world and local politics

I was born a year after the independence of Malaysia. I was therefore nurtured in an environment where I enjoyed a freedom that was part of my life in Malaysia. I had also traveled to other parts of what they call the 'free world'. In my teens in the winter of 1976, I had a chance to back pack in Europe, which was an eye opener. I took Aeroflot, a Russian airline which transited in Moscow in the then 'communist world' that we knew. It gave me a short glimpse of what the not so free world would be.

After that mind opening trip to Europe, I would spend another 3 years in a land of nature and freedom of Australia for my tertiary education. After going home to raise a family and begin my professional career in the business world for the next 30 years where the United States was the key country of my visits besides doing business in busy Asia. I believe my accumulated experience gave me a good grounding of what it is like to be in the democratic and capitalist world.

But the world isn't always the same. During my life time, some milestone changes occurred in various parts of the world outside Malaysia. Here are some chronological pics :

First the Fall of Communism

The Coming Down of Berlin Wall, the iron curtain, starting in early 1989

The start of change in China at Tiananmen Square, the bamboo curtain shakes, also in 1989

What happened in the years surrounding 1989? The following excerpt from wikipedia gives a most comprehensive coverage :

The Revolutions of 1989 (also known as the Fall of Communism, the Collapse of Communism, the Revolutions of Eastern Europe and the Autumn of Nations) were the revolutions which overthrew the communist states in various Central and Eastern European countries.

The events began in Poland in 1989, and continued in Hungary, East Germany, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia and Romania. One feature common to most of these developments was the extensive use of campaigns of civil resistance demonstrating popular opposition to the continuation of one-party rule and contributing to the pressure for change. Romania was the only Eastern Bloc country to overthrow its Communist regime violently. The Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 failed to stimulate major political changes in China. However, powerful images of courageous defiance during that protest helped to spark a precipitation of events in other parts of the globe. Among the famous anti-Communist revolutions was the fall of the Berlin Wall, which served as the symbolic gateway to German reunification in 1990.

The Soviet Union was dissolved by the end of 1991, resulting in 14 countries (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Estonia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine and Uzbekistan) declaring their independence from the Soviet Union and the bulk of the country being succeeded by the Russian Federation. Communism was abandoned in Albania and Yugoslavia between 1990 and 1992, the latter splitting into five successor states by 1992: Slovenia, Croatia, Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (later renamed Serbia and Montenegro, and later still split into two states, Serbia and Montenegro). Serbia was then further split with the breakaway of the semi-recognized state of Kosovo. Czechoslovakia too was dissolved three years after the end of communist rule, splitting peacefully into the Czech Republic and Slovakia in 1992. The impact was felt in dozens of Socialist countries. Communism was abandoned in countries such as Cambodia, Ethiopia, Mongolia and South Yemen. The collapse of Communism led commentators to declare the end of the Cold War.

The adoption of varying forms of market economy immediately resulted in a general decline in living standards in post-Communist States, together with side effects including the rise of business oligarchs in countries such as Russia, and highly disproportional social and economic development. Political reforms were varied but in only five countries were Communist institutions able to keep for themselves a monopoly on power: China, Cuba, North Korea, Laos, and Vietnam. Many Communist and Socialist organisations in the West turned their guiding principles over to social democracy. The European political landscape was drastically changed, with numerous Eastern Bloc countries joining NATO and stronger European economic and social integration entailed.

Later the rise of the Arab Spring  

The protests in Tunisia were sparked by the self-immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi on 17 December 2010 and led to the ousting of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali 28 days later on 14 January 2011, when he officially resigned after fleeing to Saudi Arabia, ending 23 years in power

This is a photo of the revolution in Egypt at Tahrir Square. The Egyptian Revolution of 2011 (Arabic: ثورة 25 يناير‎ thawret 25 yanāyir, Revolution of 25 January) took place following a popular uprising that began on 25 January 2011. It was mainly a campaign of non-violent civil resistance, which featured a series of demonstrations, marches, acts of civil disobedience and labor strikes. Millions of protesters from a variety of socio-economic and religious backgrounds demanded the overthrow of the regime of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Despite being predominantly peaceful in nature, the revolution was not without violent clashes between security forces and protesters, with at least 846 people killed and 6,000 injured. Protests took place in Cairo, Alexandria, and in other cities in Egypt, following the Tunisian revolution that resulted in the overthrow of the long-time Tunisian president.

The Egyptian revolution, along with Tunisian events, has influenced demonstrations in other Arab countries.  Arab Spring is a revolutionary wave of demonstrations, protests, and wars occurring in the Arab world that began on 18 December 2010. To date, rulers have been forced from power in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Yemen; civil uprisings have erupted in Bahrain and Syria; major protests have broken out in Algeria, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, and Sudan; and minor protests have occurred in Lebanon, Mauritania, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Djibouti, and Western Sahara.

Developments in Malaysia and South East Asia

In a developing country like Malaysia, times have changed in accordance to world trends. In local politics, there seems a similar cry towards greater democracy, meaning more justice and freedom for its people.

The situations or reasons of the other countries to move towards more democracy may be different from that of Malaysia. For a start, Malaysia had won it's independence by peaceful means from the British and was set up as a democratic country from the beginning. It adopts the practice of a Parliamentary Democracy with a constitutional monarch. This model is similar to the British system where they have a Parliament as well as a King and/or Queen respected by it's citizens but do not have political powers. So why is there a cry for greater democracy in the country?

The system of Democracy is one involving multiparty elections, a representative government and freedom of speech. What is similar in Malaysia to what the other countries in the world may be facing could be that the  freedom of speech is somewhat curtailed. How is this possible? Freedom in Democracy has never been absolute freedom as the free choice is permitted under legal limits. This means the Parliament can make laws that curtail the freedom of speech with justification that it is necessary for the peace and stability of the country to avoid chaos or riots from happening as an example. Further Malaysia and some of the other neighboring Asian countries have a situation that the same party or coalition of parties and leader such as the Prime Minister or President seem to be allowed to be re elected for many multiple terms. Some may serve for as long as 20 years or more as it's laws does not set a limit on the number of terms a Prime Minister or President can serve.  The majority of the other countries have a maximum of two terms allowed by their laws according to the world list of political term limits here.

In the case of Philippines, Ferdinand Marcos had served as president from 1965 to 1986, the only President to stay in office for more than 20 years. He had declared martial law 3 years after his 2nd re-election of 1969 which was only lifted in 1981. He was re-elected for a term of six years but only served from 1981 to 1986 as he was deposed from office through a peaceful people's revolt. The laws have now changed for a President to serve for maximum 1 term only which is for 6 years.

Military background of a leader has also has influence on how the leader comes to power and how long he can serve in some countries considered democratic. In the case of the republic of Indonesia,  Suharto was one of the generals in the army of the 1st President Sukarno had wrestled power from the President to become the 2nd President serving for 31 years from 1967 to 1998. By the 1980s, it was recorded that Suharto's grip on power was maintained by the emasculation of civil society, engineered elections, and use of the military's coercive powers. Following the Indonesian riots of May 1998 and the resignation of President Suharto, several political reforms were set in motion via amendments to the Constitution of Indonesia. This included the limiting of up to two five-year terms for the President and Vice President, and measures to institute checks and balances.

The Bersih Movement in Malaysia

Even within a democratic country like Malaysia, there are cries for more freedom and justice against corruption in the country :

Street protests in 9 July 2011 under Bersih 2.0

What was I doing there in a grey tee shirt and shorts? The account is in this post.

More street protests on 28 April 2012 under Bersih 3.0

The government had put out a warning not to gather at the Merdeka Square when they heard plans to do so.

But crowds had already gathered in the night before the set date of 28th April 2012

I observed that the police had already put up barricades and barbed wire to stop anyone from going into the Square.

Even cyclists came to check what was going on

When the next day came, thousands upon thousands had gathered just outside of the Square as seen above in the Masjid Jamek LRT station area

As usual, the police shot tear gas and used chemical water guns to disperse the crowd when all were just gathered peacefully!

Some were quite well prepared for the tear gas that stings the eye!

If you don't have goggles, tight sun glasses will do!

The crowd at the Masjid Jamek area did clear and the riot police moved in.

The Latest in Malaysia 2013

The previous Bersih rallies were deemed illegal and the peaceful citizens were shot with tear gas and chemical water guns. A turn of events occurred when the government authorized a political rally by the opposition on 12 Jan 2013 held at the Merdeka Stadium. It turned out peaceful with no incidents at all but look at the size of the crowd in and outside the stadium!!!

With all the public protests and negative events of reported scandals of corruption by government leaders , the 13th General Election (GE13) seemed to have been delayed for the longest period of time. Going by Federal Constitution, parliament must dissolve by the end of the full five-year term which is 29th April 2013. On 3rd April 2013, the Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak announced that the parliament has resolved thus paving the way for GE13 to be held. The Elections Commission(EC) had to set dates for nominations and polling that must be held within 60 days of the commission receiving the notices of dissolution from the state legislative assemblies that had yet to be dissolved. The date of 5th May 2013 was finally set for the date of the GE13. Politicians from the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) and opposition Pakatan Rakyat (PR) will be fighting for 222 parliamentary seats and 505 state seats.

Here are the comments of a political writer on Malaysia :

GE-13: No easy choice for Malaysia

Tensions are emerging, however. PAS members, such as Shahnon Ahmad (left), have cast doubt on the party for no longer adhering to the needs of Islam by working together with the DAP. In response, PAS spiritual leader and veteran politician Nik Aziz referenced how the Prophet Muhammad cooperated with Jews and non-Muslims in ancient Mecca by signing the Treaty of Hudaibiya, which was negatively perceived by the Prophet’s followers as a concession to non-Muslim enemies. Aziz was quoted saying, “however, the Muslims managed to capture the city after that”.
To some, Aziz’s comments insinuated that PAS is only cooperating with Paktan Rakyat’s component parties to further its own program of founding an Islamic state governed under hudud law. PAS has advocated gender segregation, dress code requirements, a crackdown on high heels and lipstick, banning movie cinemas, and a ban on Valentine’s Day, all of which the party views as immoral.
Such a political program only appeals to a limited demographic of the Malaysian population, and imposing the will of Islamists onto non-Muslims would undermine religious freedoms and civil liberties. The introduction of such laws in a country like Malaysia would thus represent a dictatorship of a theocratic minority over the multi-faith majority.
The focus of the next administration should arguably instead be centered on safeguarding the religious and cultural freedoms that binds together Malaysian society. Yet there are questions emerging about Pakatan Rakyat leader Anwar Ibrahim’s liberal credentials, including on issues of dissent and political expression.
The recent lawsuit filed by Anwar against political scientist Chandra Muzaffar provides one such insight. Anwar pressed charges against Chandra for saying that his hypothetical tenure as Prime Minister after the upcoming polls would be “an unmitigated disaster for Malaysia”.
As Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister under former authoritarian leader Mahathir Mohamad, Anwar’s economic policies were aligned with international financial institutions such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank. Both have historically dictated structural adjustment policies that cut social services and dismantle social safety nets in favor of central bankers and private lending institutions.
Some analysts believe that if elected Anwar would again align his policies with the IMF, which has called for the dismantling of Malaysia’s subsidy regime. If those policies are pursued in haste, some believe the nation could face the type of fuel riots that have rocked Nigeria and Indonesia in recent times, and the vicious anti-austerity protests that have become commonplace in the European Union members states such as Greece, Spain, and Portugal.
For all the Opposition criticism, BN has delivered a laudable measure of economic growth and stability. The ruling coalition’s legitimacy is based largely on its ability to deliver economic development with some of the lowest inflation rates in the world, unemployment at a meager 2.9%, and steady economic growth of around 5%. Under Najib’s watch, Malaysia has enjoyed a relatively healthy economy in a time of great global economic uncertainty.

The next administration will need to find innovative ways to reduce increasing public debt levels, bolster programs aimed at increasing incomes, and strengthen populist policies and the social safety net.
It will also need to steadfastly maintain the capital controls imposed under Mahathir that have allowed the nation to navigate through global economic and financial uncertainty.
The next government will also need to respond to outside calls for subsidy reform by balancing its budget wisely while retaining beneficial protectionist measures as it embarks on sweeping infrastructural projects throughout the country. The bottom line is that many Malaysians do not feel like the government is listening to their voices, and that it is more interested in appeasing foreign investors than grassroots communities.
Amendments such as 114A, which has been widely perceived to obstruct Internet freedoms, remain highly unpopular, as does recent news of Malaysia signing onto the controversial United States-led Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement.
The election, which must be held by June, is expected to be a tight race, the results of which may drastically alter the direction of the nation. If Najib is re-elected, his BN-led administration would capture enormous public confidence if it continued liberalizing political expression, squashed capital punishment penalties, and oversaw genuine reform of the police by addressing their spotty custodial death figures.
To uproot and prevent corruption, the next government will need to mandate that all contracts be awarded through open tenders. In that direction, politicians, ministers, and civil society members should be required to declare their assets, disclose their sources of political donations, and declare any foreign assistance and bank accounts.
There is a popular call for the next administration to take a progressive line on past unpopular policies, whichever coalition is next elected at the ballot box.

Nile Bowie is an independent political commentator and photographer based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. He can be reached at

The GE13 set for 5th May 2013 would be the most interesting election to watch as for the first time, the ruling party is facing the biggest challenge ever from the opposition who have the greatest support from the citizens compared to what was received in past years! It is deemed to be the mother of all elections in Malaysia in anticipation of change.

For more on the excitement of election day itself, click here.


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